Note: This is my own personal pick, not an endorsement from the Tucson Weekly.
A month ago, my position on the gubernatorial campaign boiled down to a simple slogan: "Democrat For Governor." Whichever Democrat could beat Ducey, that's who I wanted to run in the general. The differences between the three candidates, Steve Farley, Kelly Fryer and David Garcia, are minor compared to the Grand Canyon-sized chasm separating them from the current governor. Ducey has to go. I wanted to back the winner. It was that simple.
I've been watching to see if one of the candidates stumbled on the primary campaign trail. Anyone who was caught flat footed and started hemming, hawing and back-pedaling during the primary would run into serious trouble when they were hit by the tsunami of money and negative campaigning in the general. I haven't seen any serious stumbles from any of them. Democrats have three smart candidates who understand the issues facing Arizona and have remained consistent in their messaging.
Unfortunately, Kelly Fryer isn't a viable candidate, mainly because she's a newcomer. Ramping up from zero to governor in one campaign is nearly impossible, especially when the other candidates already have political identities. I hope to see more of Fryer in the future. She's a leader with a strong voice and relevant experience.
Both Garcia and Farley have a good shot at beating Ducey in November, especially given today's unpredictable political climate at the state and national levels, and both have the makings of a good governor. I pick David Garcia as the stronger of the two.
David Garcia is a much improved candidate from when he ran for Superintendent of Public Instruction in 2014. Four years ago, he was new to the campaign trail and hadn't found his footing. This time, he's far stronger. He looks comfortable in his own skin and sounds confident in his message. He exudes a positive energy, enjoying himself at the same time he's deeply serious about what he's doing. That makes him an attractive candidate.
Garcia isn't working from a "play it safe" script crafted to make sure he doesn't alienate any voters. He's willing to make bold statements, take risks. He's fighting to win this thing instead of trying not to lose. There's a big difference.
Recently Garcia made a statement about wanting to replace ICE with "an immigration system that reflects our American values." He was immediately criticized for handing Republicans a gift. "Garcia wants to abolish ICE!" Republicans will say. No question, that's what they'll say, even though it's not an accurate summary of Garcia's position. He took a risk. But inevitably, Arizona Democrats are going to be asked about ICE during the campaign. It's riskier for a candidate to avoid the topic, then try to dance around it with a safe non-answer — and be tagged as someone who wants to abolish ICE in spite of the attempted evasion. Garcia got ahead of the issue and framed it himself. He even flew down to the Texas border to see the situation first hand. If some voters disagree, well, voters can disagree with the candidate in some areas and still support him so long as other issues resonate. Voters respect candidates who stand by their positions with strength and conviction. Republicans understand that better than Democrats. It's time more Democrats learned.
November's results will be about turnout, and this is shaping up as a year when Democrats are more energized than Republicans. That could lead to a changing of the guard in reddish-purple Arizona. Garcia is poised to capitalize on the increased voter enthusiasm.
Education is the number one issue for Democrats. Teachers and the rest of the education community are likely to vote in record numbers. Having an educator at the top of the ticket who was out on the streets during the #RedforEd demonstrations and whose campaign carried petitions for the Invest in Education initiative can convince even more of them to show up.
Arizona's Hispanics are historically underrepresented at the polls. Garcia's name and his background, a fourth generation Arizonan who grew up in a working class family, can increase the number of Hispanic voters who think it's worth their while to vote.
A national buzz is building around Garcia. He's joined the list of Democratic candidates who have been featured on national networks and in magazines because they're breaking the traditional party mold, and because they have a shot at winning in Republican strongholds. That has to be a good thing. It increases his ability to pull in money from around the country as well as at home in a race where Ducey will have money to burn. It also increases the chances that the national party will give his campaign an extra boost. And it doesn't hurt to have a candidate who's a bit of a rock star. Voters are drawn to the glow of a candidate who is getting national attention.
If you want to learn where Garcia stands on specific issues, go to his website
or attend one of his events. Suffice it to say I like most of his ideas on important topics like education, health care, the economy, immigration and social issues. If Garcia is elected, he'll help move the state in a positive direction, with a special emphasis on children and the lower and middle classes, all of whom will benefit from a government working in their best interests.